Italian comic book creator, Hugo Eugenio Pratt, is widely considered to be one of the greatest graphic novelists of all time. Pratt is often praised for his extensive research and factual visual details. Among his catalogue of achievement is the globetrotting adventurer Corto Maltese.
Pratt was born June 15, 1927, in Rimini, Italy, but he spent his childhood in Venice, growing up in a cosmopolitan family environment. His father, a soldier in the Italian army, was transferred to the Italian colony in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Africa. In 1937, Pratt, with his mother, followed his father to Abyssinia.
Pratt, forced by his father, joined the colonial police when he was 14 years old. This experience gave him the opportunity to acquaint with soldiers from the Italian, British, Abyssinian, Senegalese and French army. During this period, he developed an interest in adventure novels and comic strips, discovering Terry and the Pirates by Milton Caniff. Caniff’s work was the inspiration that helped Pratt decide to become a cartoonist.
In 1941 Pratt’s father was captured by British troops. By late 1942, he died from disease as a prisoner of war. In the same year, Pratt and his mother were interned in a prison camp, where he would buy comics from guards. In 1943 he returned to Italy and attended the military college in Città di Castello.
After meeting Italian comic book artist Mario Faustinelli In 1945, Pratt helped create the magazine Asso di Picche (Ace of Spades). This marked the official beginning of his career as cartoonist. Pratt worked on several comics for the magazine including the title comic, Ray e Roy, Silver-Pan, Indian River and April e il Fantasma. The magazine and his character, Asso di Picche, was a success, especially in Argentina.
He became part of what some refer to as the Venice group; a collective of writers and artists that including Alberto Ongaro, Paolo Campani, Mario Faustinelli, Dino Battaglia, Fernando Carcupino, and Damiano Damiani.
Pratt struggled to find opportunities as a comic artist in post-war Italy. After an invitation by the publisher Cesar Civita, of Editorial Abril, he moved to Argentina. There, he illustrated many comic strips. In 1953, he created the character of Sgt. Kirk based on the script by Héctor Oesterheld. At the same time, Pratt taught drawing at the Esquela Panamericana de Arte and among his students were Walter Fahrer and José Muñoz.
In 1962, after a brief stint in London, Pratt decided to move back to Italy. From 1962 to 1967, he worked for Italian children’s magazine Il Corriere dei Piccoli, where he adapted several classics including Sinbad’s adventures, Ulysses’ adventures and Treasure Island.
In 1967, Pratt and Florenzo Ivaldi created a comics magazine named after his character, Il Sergente Kirk; the hero first written by Oesterheld. Pratt illustrated several stories for the first edition of the magazine, among them was Una ballata del mare salato (A Ballad of the Salt Sea). Which introduced the world to his best-known character, Corto Maltese.
Corto Maltese would not reappear again until 1970, starting with The Secret of Tristan Bantam, published in Pif. The French magazine had a great circulation and would be the turning point of Pratt’s career. He moved to France agreeing with Pif to producing a series of short 20-page Corto Maltese stories.
Corto Maltese’s success in France spread to many other countries. In 1974 Pratt created the full-length story, Corte sconta detta arcana, which was first serialised in the Italian comics magazine Linus. He continued to produce new stories up until 1988 with the story, Mù, which was serialised the Corto Maltese magazine, finally ending in June 1989.
At the beginning of 1995, Pratt created his last story, Morgan. He died at his home in Switzerland on 20th August 1995.
A series of books have been published featuring Pratt’s sketches and drawings; Périples imaginaires (2005), Périples secrets (2009) and Périples éblouis (2013). These books are absolutely gorgeous and I cannot recommend them enough. I constantly pull them off the shelf for inspiration.
In 2015, IDW’s EuroComics imprint launched an English-language edition of Corto Maltese, with new translations made from Pratt’s original Italian scripts. Three volumes are available now with a fourth due for release in September.
To find out more about Hugo Pratt head over the Cong and Corto Maltese websites. And, as one final treat for you, check out Hugo Pratt and Jean Giraud (Moebius) on Tac au tac.